When it was time for David Bowie to choose a new home for his music — not to mention his fledgling ISO label — he went with the label that didn’t strive to render him a hit machine. He chose Columbia Records, because they offered to simply let him be. “Absolutely no attempt was made on their part to guide me into making a chart-oriented record,” Bowie says. “What I brought them is what they took-and with great enthusiasm.”
What he brought the label was “Heathen” (due June 11), a 12-song epic for which the legendary artist reunited with famed producer Tony Visconti for the first time in 20 years. There are guest appearances by Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl and Pete Townshend, who adds his signature guitar work to the first radio single, “Slow Burn.” Also contributing to the set are Moby and Air, who provide appropriately atmospheric mixes of the cuts “Sunday” and “A Better Future,” respectively.
Other “Heathen” highlights include the haunting “I Would Be Your Slave,” which Bowie recently performed in New York at the Tibet House benefit show at Carnegie Hall, and “5:15 the Angels Have Gone,” a richly textured track that is drawing pre-release praise. “A man who could once see his angels — hopes and aspirations, maybe? — can’t see them anymore,” Bowie says, “and he blames the crushing dumbness of life for it.”
The song is indicative of a collection that Bowie accurately describes as “supportive structure over experiment. Tony and I wanted to give each song its own identity and character without getting lost in a hailstorm of musical ‘ideas.'”
“Heathen” is showing signs of being one of Bowie’s best-received albums in recent times. “The music that’s been made available prior to release has been quite good,” says Bradley Andrews, manager of the Virgin Megastore in Los Angeles. “It’s relevant to current trends, and yet it’s classic Bowie. It’s going to do well.”
As radio programmers hear “Slow Burn,” which has shipped to rock and adult formats, they’re equally enthusiastic. “It has a great feel that I believe our listeners will connect with,” says Alex Cortright, music director/PD of WRNR Baltimore/ Annapolis, Md.
Columbia is rolling out an extensive marketing plan for “Heathen.” “It’s terrific that David is so excited about ‘Heathen’ and that he’s sharing that excitement with the public through all of the promotional work he’s doing,” label president Will Botwin notes. “‘Heathen’ is not just a great David Bowie album: It’s a great album, period. The public will discover this for themselves very shortly, and I think they’ll be responding in a big way.”
Bowie will be visible on TV in the days surrounding the album’s release, with appearances confirmed on “The Late Show With David Letterman” (June 10), “Today” (June 14), A&E’s “Live by Request” (June 15), and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” (June 19). Bowie will also be on the road throughout much of the summer, joining up with such artists as Moby and Busta Rhymes for the Area2 tour, which kicks off July 28 in Bristow, Va. Beforehand, he will curate and perform at the Meltdown festival in London, which will also feature performances by Coldplay, Suede, Supergrass, and Mercury Rev.
“It’s increasingly evident to me that my needs to make music change periodically,” says Bowie. “There’s the narrative, crafted song type; then the experimental, ideas, and situational type; and thirdly, a theatrical-motivated, scenario type. I guess ‘Heathen’ owes a lot to the first type with a little of the second as seasoning.”
Excerpted from the June 1, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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